Macbeth

Which work by Shakespeare includes a recipe that calls for, "Eye of newt, and toe of frog?"

And the answer: Macbeth.

Photo courtesy: Kara Cavalca via The Durango Herald. 

In Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, three witches huddle around a cauldron, adding unusual ingredients as they chant together. Their spells help Macbeth see visions of the future.

While it is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, Macbeth is jam packed with drama, suspense, and action. The narrative begins with a prophecy: three witches tell the then-general Macbeth that he will one day become King of Scotland. Power-hungry Macbeth colludes with his wife, and devises a plan to kill the king and instate himself on the throne. As you might guess, pandemonium ensues.

Interestingly, while Macbeth was performed as early as 1606, it wasn't published until seven years after Shakespeare's death. The production of his First Folio, which was collated by two of the playwright's friends in 1623, publicized a whopping 36 of his plays, 18 of which hadn’t been printed before and might not have survived otherwise.

What's more: the 1606 premier of Macbeth was a disaster. Legend has it the performance resulted in the death of the actress playing Lady Macbeth (so last minute that Shakespeare himself had to take on the role), the use of real daggers instead of stage props for the murder of King Duncan (resulting in the actor’s death), and more. As a result, Macbeth has always been known as a cursed play, and even a cursed word to utter in a theater. Folklore holds that a coven of witches were unhappy with Shakespeare's use of incantations, and laid a curse on the play. Ever since, Macbeth has been known as The Scottish Play.

Fun fact!

Much to your surprise (or maybe your horror), Macbeth was actually (very loosely) based on a real king. The character Macbeth was loosely based on Mac Bethad mac Findláich, a King of Scotland in the 11th century. Some key differences between Shakespeare’s story and reality are that the while Shakespeare portrays Macbeth’s reign as short and bloody, the real king was generally perceived to be quite a successful and fair ruler, reigning from 1040 until 1057. Unsurprisingly, the historical record is lacking in witches.


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